There have been many review studies on the topic of spanking children spanning the last 40 years. Next up, I will give you Dr. Gershoff’s, the leading researcher of the anti-spanking opinion.
Most anti-spanking literature involves editorials, reviews, and commentaries. Lyons, Anderson, and Larson reviewed articles published between 1984 and 1993 that addressed corporal punishment. 83% of those 132 articles were editorials or commentaries without scientific data to support the conclusion. The remaining 17% of studies included severe physical abuse used with spanking. Editorials tend to be opinion-driven and not necessarily scientific.
Both Larzelere and Gershoff’s conducted large review studies on the same subject. Both included 18 of the same studies. The Gershoff review included 70 studies the Larzelere review did not. Dr. Gershoff used a less restrictive definition of spanking, 65% included corporal punishment studies that allowed punching, hitting with a belt, striking hard with an object, and beatings. The majority of published research denouncing spanking suffers from the design flaw that corporal punishment is addressed as one group, without differentiating spanking and abuse. Please keep this fact in mind as you read below.
The literature review by Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff (2002) consisted of 88 studies. She examined the relationship between corporal punishment and compliance of the child, aggression, criminal and antisocial behavior, quality of the parent child relationship, mental health, and abuse. Spanking was associated with immediate compliance, considered to be the only positive finding. Her analysis found detrimental effects in children over 6 years of age when spanking was used more than three times per week, though the definition of spanking was not clearly defined, which makes interpretation difficult.
The consistent finding was spanking frequency positively correlates to aggression and misconduct. It is very important to note the difference between “correlation” and “causation.” Because of its methods and by her own self-critique, Dr. Gershoff’s meta-analysis cannot determine whether spanking causes increased misbehavior or whether difficult child temperament causes parents to use discipline more frequently.
“Spanking” was associated with decreased internalization of morals, diminished quality of the parent-child relationship, poorer child mental health, and anti-social behavior. Dr. Gershoff emphasizes her study could not support the conclusion spanking causes damage, nonetheless, her study results are consistently used to support spanking bans.
Dr. Murray Strauss is a proponent of the idea children who are spanked are more likely to resolve conflicts with violence as adults. His studies are “cross-sectional” meaning survey-based. He collects information retrospectively and relies on the memory of parents. His studies support the assertion that spanking produces undesired life outcomes, such as alcoholism, marital violence, depression, and suicidal ideation. Evaluation often focused on spanking adolescents, instead of limiting spanking to young children, the only age group pediatricians and psychologists support for an occasional spank.
Conclusions are therefore derived from “physical punishment during the teen years,” with teenagers being hit more than 30 times per year. Spanking teenagers has never been a recommended intervention and is highly unlikely to be effective. Evidence for Dr. Strauss’ conclusions disappears when effects of spanking are limited to children 2-8 years of age. Interestingly enough, some cross-sectional studies linked childhood aggressiveness to maternal permissiveness and negativity even more than abusive physical discipline measures correlated, but that is a discussion for another time.
Reviewing the anti-spanking literature revealed no randomized clinical trials exist proving spanking is ineffective or harmful. Many challenges were identified when drawing conclusions from Dr. Gershoff’s review study. Spanking is defined loosely, making the definition subjective. The research tends to be correlational; therefore, cannot support causation for spanking being beneficial or detrimental.
Important aspects of parenting are unaccounted for such as nurturance, other discipline method use, parental attitude, or the child’s misbehavior. No other discipline methods were studied in conjunction with spanking. The final most concerning issue is that frequent misbehavior and challenging child temperament can be predictive of subsequent child behavior problems could lead to misinterpretation of the results.
What all experts who research corporal punishment can agree upon is the developmental outcome of child-rearing is primarily determined by the overall quality of the parent-child relationship. Immediate compliance clearly follows spanking, age tends to moderate the outcome of spanking (detrimental outcomes are more likely with children over 8) especially for 10-12 years of age, and frequent corporal punishment is associated with more negative outcomes. Interestingly, Dr. Gershoff agrees that harmful effects of punishment do not differ when spanking, verbal punishment, loss of privileges, and grounding were compared.
I do hope this information is helpful to you all!